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PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Prospect Preview: Ben Simmons

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Ben Simmons entered college basketball last season as the nation’s most hyped prospect.

They mentioned him in the same breath as LeBron. He was a stalwart on national television, and every major publication had some sort of feature on the freshman before he ever played a second collegiately.

And it was all downhill from there. The Aussie point forward saw his team stumble through the early part of the season and struggle in league play before collapsing down the stretch. His numbers were insane. His team turned down a bid to the NIT.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Simmons is, quite clearly, not the generational talent so many wanted him to be entering college. But he is a gifted athlete with a unique skill-set that, in theory, has a very bright future in front of him.

But just how bright?

Height: 6′ 10″
Weight: 229
Wingspan: 6′ 11″
2015-16 Stats: 19.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 4.8 apg

STRENGTHS: Simmons is the easiest player to scout in this year’s draft class because it’s just so obvious what he does well while his weaknesses are even more glaring.

Let’s start with the physical tools. Simmons is 6-foot-10. He’s quick. He’s agile. He’s fluid. He can move laterally. He runs the floor like a deer. He’s got some bounce to him. He checks in somewhere around 230-240 pounds. (He didn’t get his physical profile measured at the combine.) He moves like a player six inches shorter than him and he’s built like typical power forward. When combined with ball-handling, his elite-of-the-elite vision and ability throw no-look bullet passes all over the court, he becomes him a constant highlight reel. Simmons is better than anyone that I can remember watching at the college level at grabbing a defensive rebound and leading the break, and his phenomenal ability to clean the glass (he averaged 8.8 defensive boards) is a major reason that more than a quarter of his offense came in transition, according to Synergy’s logs.

Let’s go back to his passing for a minute: He’s ridiculous. His ability to see plays develop and find a way to get the ball to whoever is open is just not something you see out of someone his size. He passes out of double-teams in the post, he can pass on the move and he can lead the break.

Simmons is not all that long — his wingspan has been measured at under 7-feet multiple times — but he has an uncanny ability to anticipate where a rebound is going. Players don’t average 11.9 boards by accident, and if there is anything that we’ve learned over the years, it’s that the ability to rebound translates between levels of basketball.

If Simmons isn’t scoring in transition, there are some limits to what his effectiveness will be at the next level given his issues shooting the ball (more on that in a bit). But there are some things he does very well. He can get to the rim off the bounce and he has the body control to split defenders and create space to get a shot off in the lane. He’s not great at finishing through contact but he’s exceptional at drawing fouls, getting to the line nine times per game last season.

Simmons seems to prefer being isolated on the perimeter or put into ball-screen actions, but he can also score from the low- and mid-post. He shoots left-handed but when finishing from six-feet and in he generally uses his right hand, including a jump-hook that was pretty effective. His quickness also creates problems for slower defenders, as he has an effective jab-step that’s set-up by his quick spins and rip-throughs.

If you just watched a highlight reel from Simmons’ freshman year — like the one you see here — you’ll probably convince yourself he is the next NBA superstar. But there’s so much more to the story here.

WEAKNESSES: Shooting.

Simmons made just one three his freshman season. He attempted just three. He was 14-for-45 on jumpers, per Synergy. He shot 67.0 percent from the free throw line. That isn’t terrible, but his jump is ugly enough that there are scouts out there that believe he should follow in the footsteps of Tristan Thompson and switch which hand he shoots with; he’s currently a lefty, although he’s always coming back to his right hand around the rim.

Obviously this is a problem in today’s NBA, which is entirely built around the concept of spacing. It was a problem for him in college as well, as one of the strategies that opposing teams employed come SEC play was to play five or six feet off of him and offer a ton of help. LSU had their own issues with spacing offensively even before Simmons was dared to shoot.

The biggest issue that this caused was that Simmons, when he wasn’t being guarded, became passive. It affected his entire game, and therein lies the biggest concern that NBA teams have about him: He’s terrific when he’s motivated, but what is it going to take to keep him motivated for an 82-game season?

By the end of the year, Simmons had essentially quit playing defense. That isn’t putting it too harshly, either. Anyone could watch an LSU game and see that he simply did not care about that end of the floor. Perhaps the most frustrating part is that wingspan is really the only thing that limits Simmons’ potential as a defender. He really should be a guy that can guard wings and guard fours. He should be able to switch onto point guards and handle small-ball fives. He’s that kind of athlete. He doesn’t want to be that kind of defender.

I don’t like comparing Simmons to LeBron, but the one place that I think it is fair is when you look at the performance LeBron put on in the 2015 NBA Finals. His Cavs were totally overmatched and going up against what may be the greatest team in the history of the NBA, and LeBron damn-near averaged a triple-double and had Cleveland up 2-1 in the series. They eventually lost, but that had as much to do with LeBron’s body being unable to handle the ridiculous workload as it did anything else.

Simmons was in a similar situation with LSU this season, and he opted to pout the one time that his head coach tried to punish him — he was benched for the first five minutes of a game against SEC bottom-feeder Tennessee that LSU lost by 16, and Simmons’ effort was an embarrassment. At the time, the Tigers were just a week removed from a win that many believed had pushed them onto the right side of the bubble. That was a crippling loss to their season, and a moment that made a big impression on a number of people the same way their joke of a performance in a 71-38 loss in the first round of the SEC tournament did.

Just how competitive is this kid if he’s willing to give up on his team like that? Does he want to be an NBA champion or does he simply want to live the life that comes with being an NBA player?

Simmons has other question marks. His turnover numbers are too high because he tries for the highlight instead of the smart play. His length gives him some issues finishing at the rim against NBA size. He struggles to create in the half court when he doesn’t have a chance to get a head of steam. People refer to him as ambidextrous, which isn’t exactly true. He shoots jumpers lefty and he shoots everything in and around the rim right-handed. He has no off-hand around the basket, and he struggles to finish around the rim, period. As impressive as his body control is, he tends to play out of control, particularly when attacking the basket.

But all things considered, it’s his shooting and his desire to be great vs. being famous that matter far more than anything else.

NBA COMPARISON: The comparison that everyone seems to make with Simmons is LeBron James, and on the surface, it’s not terrible. These days, as a 31-year old and a 13-year NBA veteran, LeBron essentially plays the four on both ends of the floor, which is what Simmons looks like he’ll end up being in the NBA. That wasn’t the case five years ago, however, just like LeBron isn’t near the defender that he was five years ago. That helps with this comparison. They’re both big, they’re both versatile, they’re both sensational passers with question marks surrounding their jumper. I get it.

The problem, however, is that it’s just so unfair to compare anyone, let alone a potential No. 1 pick, to a man that many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all-time. Think about it like this: LeBron has won two NBA titles, he’s been to the finals seven times (including six straight season) and he’s been the MVP four times, yet there are people — not just Skip Bayless — who have decided that the hill they’re going to die on is that ‘LeBron James is overrated.’ So how will people react when the kid that was hyped as LeBen, the Next LeBron, turns out to be a poor man’s version of James?

The comparison that I’ve always made is to Lamar Odom, but even that’s not perfect. Simmons is more athletic and a much better passer while Odom was a better shooter and a bit taller, although Odom’s impact and career trajectory is what I expect Simmons to produce.

OUTLOOK: Simmons has the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft. If his jumper comes around, if he decides that he wants to be a really good defender in this league, if he ever figures out how to take over a game and a team, he’s got a shot at being one of the 10 or 15 best players in the NBA.

The question that Philadelphia — and the Lakers, or anyone else considering trading up for the No. 1 pick — has to ask is whether or not Simmons will ever reach that potential.

There’s no guarantee that he ever wants to be a defender. Players that quit on their team, like Simmons did far too often his freshman season, don’t usually get that coached out of that. And it’s worth asking whether or not he actually wants to be a great player and a winner as opposed to just a star athlete. For that to happen, he’s going to need to spend hours and hours and hours in a gym, perfecting that shooting stroke. It can be done — see Leonard, Kawhi, or Hield, Buddy — but it requires a player with a work ethic that borders on psychotic.

I think it’s more likely that Simmons’ ceiling is as a complimentary piece on a title contender, which is why I like the Odom comparison so much. Odom averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 boards and 3.7 assists for his career, but those stats are skewed but a couple of bad years at the end of his career. For a four-year stretch with the Lakers, Odom averaged 15 points, 10 boards and 4.5 assists was the No. 2 or 3 option on a team that won two NBA titles and reached a third Finals.

All in all, that’s not bad.

LaMelo Ball reportedly wants to play for New York Knicks

LaMelo Ball Knicks
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Ultimately, LaMelo Ball does not control where he plays basketball next season. On Aug. 25 the ping pong balls will determine the NBA’s draft order, then on Oct. 16 a team will select Ball and he will have to play in that city (or sit out all organized basketball for a year so he can re-enter the draft, which will not help his stock).

New York is reportedly high on Ball. It turns out, LaMelo Ball wants to play for the Knicks — shocking, I know — reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

As teams do their homework on players in the draft, there’s been a consistent theme about LaMelo Ball: multiple teams believe Ball and those in his circle prefer that he lands in New York. (Those teams have picks projected later in the first round than the Knicks, for what it’s worth.)

LaMelo’s father LaVar has said as much, very loudly, but nobody takes what he says terribly seriously. Plus, again, ultimately LaVar and LaMelo do not control the process. The ping pong balls and picks will fall where they may.

LaMelo is considered a likely top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Knicks have a 37.2% chance of landing a top-four pick, where they have a shot at selecting Ball. They also have a 50.4% chance of selecting seventh or eighth, when he is likely off the board (and whether Ball is worth trading up for is up for debate… at best).

NBC’s own Rob Dauster has said LaMelo Ball has the highest upside of any player in the 2020 NBA Draft. The potential for stardom, especially in the modern game, is there. He’s a 6’7″ guard with impressive handles and elite court vision, which combine to make him dangerous initiating the pick-and-roll. Ball’s supporters see a ceiling of a Trae Young, All-Star level of offensive impact for Ball.

Whether Ball can reach that ceiling is another question entirely. He lacks a consistent shot, especially from deep — he shot 37.5% overall and 25% from three in Australia.  In addition, his decision making needs work, his defense is unimpressive (and he seems disinterested), and there are lingering questions about his work ethic.

Ball is the classic high risk/high reward player — maybe he can be developed into an elite star, but his floor is also pretty low.

Knicks fans can debate amongst themselves if LaMelo Ball is the kind of player they need, but New York is where he wants to be.

NBA gets coronavirus test results quickly, unlike much of nation. Should they?

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The NBA’s entire bubble restart plan is built on testing — upon arrival in Orlando, players are quarantined in their rooms until they pass two coronavirus tests 24 hours apart, then they will be tested daily. Commissioner Adam Silver was clear during the planning of the league’s restart that if the league were taking coronavirus tests away from hot spots and people who needed them, then there would be no restart. The league took its PR hit on that back in March when teams were tested while people wondering if they had COVID-19 struggled to get tests. It came off as preferential treatment.

Silver has nothing to fear on this front, tests appear widely available nationwide.

Getting the results for those tests, however, is a different story — nationally, labs are overwhelmed with the increase in testing.

The NBA is getting its test results back from a lab within a day (or two at most), while much of the nation is waiting a week or longer for those same results.

Is that the same ethical issue for the NBA as not taking tests away from people? NBC’s own Tom Haberstroh dove into the issue, noting the NBA has moved away from Quest Diagnostics as its testing partner in Florida and is now using BioReference Laboratories, sources told Haberstroh.

The shift away from Quest is notable considering that on Monday, Quest Diagnostics issued a worrisome press release. Quest stated a recent surge in demand for coronavirus testing had caused delays in processing, with 4-6 day average turnarounds on COVID-19 tests for populations that do not fall into their “Priority 1” group. That group includes “hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.” Average turnarounds for Priority 1 would be one day, the lab company said.

It’s difficult to see how the NBA and its personnel would be considered Priority 1 in the Quest designation. Being put in the normal population group, with 4-6 day turnarounds, would lead to significant delays and could jeopardize the league’s entire testing operation.

The good news for the NBA is that BioReference Laboratories (if that is who the NBA uses, nothing is official)  is turning tests around in about a day for the league (and Major League Soccer, which also has a restart campus on the Walt Disney World property). But it’s not that way for everyone.

BioReference is experiencing serious delays with the general public. As of Thursday morning, patients attempting to access test results on the BioReference website would be met with an alert that reads: “If you are looking for your COVID-19 PCR (swab) results please note that these may not be available in the patient portal for up to 5-7 days after collection. As always, we appreciate your business and thank you for your patience during this unprecedented time.”

To be clear: The NBA has not announced its testing partner in Florida, and it’s not officially known if the NBA is being put in “priority one” groups ahead of the general public for results. We don’t know for sure what system the NBA has in place.

What we know is what we see: Players had to pass two tests 24 hours apart to be done with quarantine, to practice, and be free to roam the campus the NBA set up on the Disney property. The first teams to arrive are practicing just 48 hours after they arrived. Meaning the NBA is getting fast test turnarounds.

It raises an ethical and moral question about preferential treatment. While the NBA is big business and there is a desire to have NBA games return, the league should not be put ahead of anyone else who is looking to get tested. Sure, the NBA and it’s players’ union have agreed to be part of a Yale University’s SalivaDirect test study, but that alone should not bump NBA players to the front of the testing line ahead of the general public.

Haberstroh has medical ethicists saying the same thing, but the real judge will be the public and the PR backlash. This could be another black eye for the league. We, as a nation, have always prioritized sport as entertainment, giving it a lofty status in our culture. But with people’s health on the line, that feeling may be very different for a lot of people.

 

 

Nets reportedly sign Donta Hall for restart games in Orlando

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Donta Hall went undrafted out of Alabama last June, then made the most of the opportunities he was given. The 6’9″ big man tore up the G League for the Grand Rapids Drive, averaging 15.4 points a game on 66.9% shooting, plus gabbing 10.6 rebounds a night. It was good enough to get him a call up to the Pistons and getting in four games for them.

Now he’s going to play in the NBA restart for the Brooklyn Nets, a story broken by Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The shorthanded Nets are without big men DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Nicolas Claxton (Jarrett Allen was the only center on the roster). Donta Hall will get the chance to impress the Nets — and other teams — and try to earn a contract for next season (he will be a free agent when the Nets are eliminated).

Hall is a tremendous athlete, he’s bouncy and long (7’5″ wingspan). If his skills develop, he has a role in the NBA.

The Nets were hit hard by injuries and had to make substitute signings such as Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley. Here is what the final Nets roster looks like in Orlando.

After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”